Tips for Parents: Outside of School Educational Opportunities
Lupkowski-Shoplik, A.
Davidson Institute for Talent Development

This Tips for Parents article is from a seminar hosted by Ann Lupkowski-Shoplik, who provides advice on a number of strategies parents can take in regards to educational opportunites outside of school.

General Advice

Parents of gifted children often look for outside-of-school opportunities for their children as a way of supplementing the programs offered at school or even in place of school programs. When making decisions about sending your child to a summer program or other outside-of-school opportunity, consider the following:

  • Will your child’s school recognize the student’s work and give credit and/or placement in a higher level class?
  • Are you looking for a commuter or residential summer program?
  • What are the cost factors?
  • Can you arrange something independently, or do you need a structured program?
  • If your child needs a more advanced class, will the program allow him or her to take a class designed for older students rather than one advertised for his or her age?

Selecting a Summer Program

  1. Determine your goals. Are you looking for a program that stretches a student academically or is social or physical development the most important thing this summer?

  2. Consider basics like cost and location.

  3. Is your child ready to go away from home for a week or more? It might be best if the first sleep away camp is relatively close to home so you can make a quick trip to visit your child, if necessary. Consider sending your child to visit a relative for a long weekend first, so he or she has some experience “on his own” before going to a camp with a new group of people.

  4. Students don’t need to go to a summer camp every year. You might decide that, for now, it's most appropriate to do something near home. Volunteering to conduct a story hour at the local library, helping a church or community group with a summer camp for younger children, or other similar volunteer activities teach young people many important life lessons such as a good work ethic, people skills, and taking responsibility.

If Your Child Isn’t Going to Summer Camp

  1. Do not underestimate the power of unstructured time. Children need time to create, plan, and dream.

  2. Consider distance learning programs such as Learning Links at Northwestern University

  3. As kids get older, look into the possibility of a mentorship or shadowing experience, where the student would have the chance to work with a scientist, doctor, pharmacist, or other professional. This type of opportunity won’t cost anything and it might provide valuable lessons and experiences for the student.

  4. Take advantage of one-time events, such as those offered for the Davidson Young Scholars, participation in student conferences, or competitions. Those short events can be life-changing experiences.

Financial Aid

First, make sure you fill out the financial aid request forms for each program. Ask program personnel for help in securing financial aid. Many programs are able to help you. Don’t assume you can’t qualify for financial aid.

Check with local organizations, such as the Rotary, Kiwanis, or your township foundation. They might give partial scholarships to help talented students participate in special academic opportunities.

The residential component is what makes many summer programs expensive. Consider a commuter program, or consider having your child stay with a relative or friend to attend a commuter program in another city.

Other Opportunities

Contact local museums, zoos, planetariums, etc. They may have programs for junior tour guides or junior volunteers. The students might learn more as volunteers than they would in a paid program (and there's no cost!).

Consider looking at universities in your area, and contact departments of interest. The person answering the phone can probably direct you to a professor who might take some time with a younger student. Many departments maintain a list of graduate students who are willing to tutor younger students in their subject area. These graduate students could be great contacts to help get your child into a lab as a volunteer or they might work with your child on a science fair project.

Investigate contests and competitions. Participating in a science fair or competition gives a student the chance to work on a long-term project. Competing in math or writing contests encourages students to do their best work and introduces them to students (and adults) with similar interests. Excellent performance in a competition may open doors to other opportunities.


Science and technology resources

Camp Kennedy Space Center for students in grades 2-9

National Computer Camp

SPARK For 7th and 8th graders

Science contests

BEST Robotics Competition Boosting Engineering Science and Technology

FIRST LEGO League Robotics competition:

The Dupont Challenge: Science Essay Competition

Intel Science Talent Search Grade 12.

Science Olympiad

Siemens Westinghouse Competition in Math, Science and Technology:

Math Resources

American Mathematics Competitions

The Art of Problem Solving:

Math Forum

Math League

Math Olympiads for Elementary and Middle Schools


Odyssey of the Mind

Program in Mathematics for Young Scientists

Ross Mathematics Program

USA Math Talent Search

U.S. Chess Federation 

Online math games

Humanities Resources

Creative Kids

Stone Soup, a magazine by young writers and artists:

Teen ink: by teens, for teens.

Writers’ Slate: poetry and prose by students in K-12:

Humanities Contests

The America Library of Poetry Student Poetry Contests:

Knowledge Master Open:

The National Council of Teachers of English Student Awards:

National Geographic Bee:

National History Day Contest:

Scripps National Spelling Bee:

The Stock Market Game:

The Word Masters Challenge:

City Theatre Young Playwrights contest, Pittsburgh:

National Foundation for Advancement in the Arts (NFAA) Young Arts Program:

Humanities Websites

Database of Award-Winning Children’s Literatures:

EyeWitness to history:

GeoNet: A Geography Game:

Guys Read: A Reading Site for Boys:

National Geographic Kids:

Summer Reading Lists:

U.S. 50: A Guide to the 50 states:

Summer Programs

Leap@CMU: Carnegie Mellon. Interact with leading computer scientists at CMU in mathematics and robotics.

Carolina Journalism Institute

Carnegie Mellon pre-college program. Take undergraduate courses while living in dorms.

Research Science Institute:

Summer programs:

Other Great Resources

Duke TIP - Educational Opportunity Guide. an online community for academically talented youth:

Hoagies’ Gifted Education Page:

KidSource Online:  

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